Monday, August 13, 2012

BRT to the Rescue

By Matthew Tester, Project Associate.

After the painful affair that was the transportation sales tax referendum in Metro Atlanta, I’m looking far and wide for good news in the transportation realm. I need to know that somewhere out there political gridlock isn’t as bad as what clogs our streets every day. I need to believe solutions are out there. More than that, I need to know that my pet transit option, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), is getting traction somewhere in the world.

Enter Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel is talking the talk about implementation of “Gold Standard” BRT on key routes through the city. Unlike half-hearted BRT efforts that are essentially regular city buses painted with fancy graphics, Gold Standard BRT has the capacity to change minds about bus transit. According to BRT Chicago, a consortium of public and private backers, the City has now committed to three new BRT routes in town, and Mayor Emanuel has stated that such projects in the city will have “dedicated bus lanes, signal preemption, pre-paid boarding or on-board fare verification, multiple entry and exit points on the buses, limited stops, and at-grade boarding” – all hallmark features of Gold Standard BRT. It seems that the Central Loop (East-West) BRT line through the city’s core commercial district is the first real test of Emanuel’s commitment to Gold Standard BRT; the project has received $24.6 million from the FTA and $7.3 million in local TIF funds.

Whether Chicago goes all-in or not, it’s high time we had an American example of premium BRT implementation. The continued proliferation of “BRT” systems in our country that lack the essential features of BRT – such as those in Atlanta, NYC, and LA – will ultimately lead the public and policymakers to conflate BRT with regular bus service. And the more that happens, the less likely it is that this affordable, attractive, and capable transit mode will get a chance to prove its worth.

To learn a more about Gold Standard BRT, check out these links: